Trending
MOST READ
Italian: SoBro Pizza Co.

Italian: SoBro Pizza Co.

Flavor 2014: If you build it, they will come. If you build it underneath their apartments, they’ll stop by for gelato, Napolitano pizzas and an excellent wine... 7/29/2014
Dessert & Bakery: La Panaderia

Dessert & Bakery: La Panaderia

Flavor 2014: Los panaderos are in San Antonio. Brothers David and Jose Cacéres have opened the first of what could be many locations of La Panaderia, a concept the... 7/29/2014
Free Will Astrology

Free Will Astrology

Astrology: ARIES (March 21-April 19): These horoscopes I write for you aren’t primarily meant to predict the future. They are more about uncovering hidden potentials and... By Rob Brezsny 9/17/2014
Best Happy Hour

Best Happy Hour

Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
Savage Love: Get It Together

Savage Love: Get It Together

Arts & Culture: I’m the bisexual everyone loves to hate because I want to be in a poly relationship with both a man and a woman. I am a woman who is... By Dan Savage 9/17/2014
Calendar

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Arts & Culture

‘The Hundred-Year House’ Tells a Ghost Story in Reverse

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo


Rebecca Makkai’s new novel begins, “For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming.” It’s a surprising first line for the The Hundred-Year House, unsettling even, but it does the job of immediately clarifying that although the beautiful, mysterious original owner of Laurelfield (the titular house) committed suicide in the attic, that is not the story worth telling. Instead, Makkai tells three other totally unique yet intertwined tales of Laurelfield, working her way back through time, before finally offering a glimpse of the tragic Violet Devohr.

The Hundred-Year House begins in 1999, with the return of Zee Devohr, a Marxist literary scholar, to the ancestral home of her wealthy family. Her husband Doug is supposed to be working on a monograph of the obscure poet Edward Parfitt, who stayed at Laurelfield when it was an artists’ colony, but is instead secretly ghostwriting a series of books for tween girls. He becomes obsessed with finding out what happened at the colony, and teams up with his artistic, sympathetic sister-in-law to unravel the mystery. Makkai then turns the story back to 1955, when Zee’s mother Gracie, a Grace Kelly-like Toronto socialite is exiled to Laurelfield with her philandering, alcoholic husband. Lonely and desperate, Gracie spends her time hiding in her own attic, away from the nosy servants and her husband’s cruelty and violence, looking through Laurelfield’s intriguing files. We finally see the colony in its heyday in 1929, when Zee’s grandfather, Gamby Devohr, unexpectedly arrives at Laurelfield to claim his home. The story of the artists’ desperate gamble to save the colony provides the truth behind the mysterious clues discovered by Doug and Gracie.

On the surface, Makkai’s novel is an arch, contemporary take on the “haunted house” mystery trope (a subject on which Zee herself reluctantly teaches, in a class called “The Spirit in the House: Ghosts in the British and American Traditions”). However, the ghost isn’t real, just an ominous portrait on a wall, and the secrets the house hides are all too human.

At times both hilarious and heartbreaking, Makkai creates eccentric characters the reader can’t give up on, even at their very lowest, least likeable points. Makkai’s witty and engrossing writing style belies the nearly Dickensian way she layers characters over time, revealing hidden identities and unknown connections. It is also a very frank story of the lives of working artists and writers: the trade-offs, the losses, the liberation and the need for both community and isolation.

From the opening line to the last, The Hundred-Year House is utterly absorbing. Deceptively light and fast-paced, the story will stay with the reader long after the satisfying conclusion.

The Hundred-Year House

by Rebecca Makkai
Viking Books | $26.95 | 352 pp

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus